The top right turn was Manmeet's strongest weapon: Rajat Kathuria
I came to Delhi in 1981. Between 1981 and until Delhi hosted the TT World Championship in 1987, we played for each other and for the same teams, initially for Delhi and then for India. We often come together to play doubles as well. I vividly remember the good times with him for Manmeet or Mannu, as his close friends knew him, he is not someone you can forget.
As a player, he is best described as attacking and aggressive. He was very fit and always on the lookout for an attack with his devastating right turn that left opponents stunned by the blow. He had a unique serve for those moments, a very, very high pitch, and tremendous control over his block near the table. But by far his strongest weapon was his destructive right turn.
We had some memorable matches. I would say that the results were even. We played some very long games by today's standards. The game consisted of 21 points and a match close to the best of five could last more than an hour. We not only play in Delhi, but we also compete in other places: in the Nationals, in the Pentangular tournament (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal); the first of which was held in Hyderabad. The rivalry was limited to the table; off the table with who was a great guy. He always kept you engaged in one joke or another.
I remember we were in Indore, playing in a Central Zone tournament, and we decided to go see a movie. Manmeet generously offered to transport people one at a time on a scooter borrowed from a friend. We waited and waited and when he finally appeared he said the movie was not worth it! He was the only player on a NIS training camp, Patiala, who told our North Korean coach, Pak, that we were Table tennis players and not weight lifters when Pak's training regimen became too austere.
amongmanmeet'smostmemorablematchesshouldbeoneagainstnorthkoreaduringtheasianchampionshipatkhudiramstadiuminkolkata.teammatcheswereplayedinthebestof9formatknownastheswaythlingcupstyle.indiawasleading4-1andmanmeethadwontwomatchesforus.pak,thenorthkoreancoachactuallyleftthearenaatthetime,nervousabouttherepercussionsofhiscountryifindiawon.however,hemusthavebeensatisfiedthattheunderprivilegedbyfarindiawereabouttocreatehistoricalunrest.manmeetunderstoodthedividedallegiancesandwaswillingtoexoneratepak.luckily,welostthetie5-4; But the fact that we were up 4-1 and extended a higher ranked opponent to 9 games was a great achievement for us at the time. Manmeet played a starring role!
For me, what stood out about him was his competitive spirit: if he played for the state or for the country, he gave his best. He was a player with whom the coaches were always very happy because he gave one hundred percent, no less. He was extremely committed. Off the table, he was full of life and lived life on his terms, always fair and just.
My reaction to his unfortunate disappearance was one of utter surprise. For an athlete and someone as fit and lively as he was, it was a cruel ending and too soon to go. A rare disease hit him; and he fought valiantly, as he always did on and off the table during his immensely satisfying life. I will remember him for all the right reasons: his zest for life, his commitment, his happy demeanor. People like Mannu do not die; they live in our hearts. RIP Mannu Bhai!
(The writer, Rajat Kathuria is a former India and Delhi Table tennis player who played along with Manmeet singh Walia)